What you need to know about phone-paid subscription services
23 May 2018, Lewis Evans, Senior Communications Executive
At PSA, we closely monitor the phone-paid services market, tracking emerging trends, examining payment technologies, and listening directly to the concerns of thousands of consumers a year.
We have a strong record of taking action and adjusting our regulation to suit conditions in the market to meet emerging challenges. For example, we tightened our rules around online competition and online adult services in January 2017, and have since seen a marked decrease in the number of complaints we receive about these service types.
An area we are often asked about by consumers is subscription services. These are recurring charges that are set up to a phone bill in exchange for access to certain content or services, such as entry to a competition, games, fitness or music.
Many consumers are confused by the billing process and will report to us that they have not signed up to the service. Many also tell us that they are unsure how to interact with text messages they receive from the service provider, including the STOP reminders that PSA requires, meaning that they stay subscribed for longer than they might otherwise wish.
Given these uncertainties, we wanted to highlight some of our advice to consumers:
- Check your phone bill regularly. If you see anything unexpected, check it with your mobile network or by contacting the service provider. Be aware that the messages you receive informing you of the charge are unlikely to be spam! They need to be read and understood.
- If you want to stop recurring charges, read the messages carefully.
- You can text ‘STOP ALL’ to the short code provided by the service provider in these text messages. This may be different to the short code you receive the messages from and should be included in the text – don’t just hit reply to the message.
- If you have concerns about a service after contacting the service provider, you can contact the PSA and we'll be happy to look in to the matter for you.
As a regulator, our role is to protect consumers and ensure companies play by the rules. That means being clear in what they are offering and how much it costs. Services must make it clear to consumers the cost of a service and any information likely to influence their decision to purchase.
If we find evidence of consumers being treated unfairly, we take action. It’s not our role to pursue individual’s cases, but rather to enforce a Code of Practice that ensures a healthy and innovative market where consumers can charge content, goods and services to their phone bill with confidence.
We’re also reviewing our rules for subscription services this financial year, with a view to ensuring they meet consumers’ expectations. We know from our research that there are services out there where it is possible for consumers to sign up inadvertently. Even where the service in question complies with our Code of Practice, that’s not a satisfactory situation and can undermine confidence in the wider industry. Look out for more information later in the year if you’d like to contribute to the review.